Diagram of a test project in Italy in which sea cucumbers cleaned up excrement from farmed mussels. GROSSO ET AL.
A topic that rarely, if ever, has made our pages, the sea cucumber’s moment in the spotlight has arrived:
A sea cucumber near Mindoro Island in the Philippines. IMAGEBROKER / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
Are Sea Cucumbers a Cleanup Solution to Fish Farm Pollution?
Seafood farm operators are breeding and deploying sea cucumbers to vacuum up the massive amounts of fish waste that pose a major problem for their industry. It is part of an effort to redesign fish farms with multiple species so that they work more like natural ecosystems.
Sea bass at a fish farm in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Slovenia. WATERFRAME / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
Off the coast of the Hawaiian Island of Kauai, an underwater metropolis bustles. Sea turtles glide lazily through the surf while schools of fluorescent yellow butterflyfish weave between basketball-size sea urchins and sharp corals.
But Dave Anderson isn’t distracted by the otherworldly charm of the coral reef — he’s here on a mission. Around 70 feet below the surface, he finds his prize: a red sea cucumber. Continue reading →
Our thanks to the LA Review of Books for this review by Dinyar Patel:
Sugar, Slavery, and Capitalism: On Ulbe Bosma’s “The World of Sugar”
WHAT MIGHT DONALD RUMSFELD have in common with Frederick Barbarossa, Mormons, and Queen Elizabeth I’s rotting teeth? The answer is simpler than you might expect: the power and influence of sugar, a crystalline specimen of world-historical significance dissolved in your morning coffee or tea. A warmongering neocon, a Holy Roman emperor, pious Utahns, and a heavily cavitied pair of Tudor gnashers are part of an expansive cast of characters in Ulbe Bosma’s new work on the sweet stuff, The World of Sugar: How the Sweet Stuff Transformed Our Politics, Health, and Environment over 2,000 Years. This book is a tour de force of global history, one that helps us better understand the genesis of both modern capitalism and globalization. Continue reading →
Collagen is derived from cattle, but unlike beef, there is currently no obligation to track the product’s environmental impacts. Photograph: Cícero Pedrosa Neto
Know your beauty products:
Global craze for collagen linked to Brazilian deforestation
Investigation finds cases of the wellness product, hailed for its anti-ageing benefits, being derived from cattle raised on farms damaging tropical forest
Tens of thousands of cattle raised on farms that are damaging tropical forests in Brazil are being used to produce collagen – the active ingredient in health supplements at the centre of a global wellness craze. Continue reading →
Addressing the problem, some scientists believe, may require reimagining agriculture from the ground up. Illustration by Juan Bernabeu
Stephen Porder is Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, a Fellow in the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, and the Assistant Provost for Sustainability at Brown. Elemental is his new book looking at how life shapes Earth using basic elements we may take for granted. Read on to learn more about the book, and its wider relevance to other books now being published that discuss phosphorous.
Thanks, as always, to Elizabeth Kolbert for her book reviews, and in this case a nod to the Rich Earth Institute:
Phosphorus Saved Our Way of Life—and Now Threatens to End It
Fertilizers filled with the nutrient boosted our ability to feed the planet. Today, they’re creating vast and growing dead zones in our lakes and seas.
In the fall of 1802, the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt arrived in Callao, Peru’s major port, just west of Lima. Humboldt had timed his visit to coincide with a transit of Mercury, which he planned to observe through a three-foot telescope, in order to determine Lima’s longitude. He set up his instruments atop a fort on the waterfront, and then, with a few days to kill before the event, wandered the docks. A powerful stench emanating from boats loaded with what looked like yellowish clay piqued his curiosity. From the locals, Humboldt learned that the material was bird shit from the nearby Chincha Islands, and that it was highly prized by farmers in the area. He decided to take some home with him. Continue reading →
‘It hurts to know that we create so much waste.’ Composite: The Guardian/Getty Images/NASA
We have been clearly on one side of this, but now thanks to Cecilia Nowell and the Guardian we acknowledge a possible reason to reconsider:
Coffee capsules notoriously produce waste – but some experts maintain that reducing how much coffee you use, even with a pod, can decrease emissions
If you drink one of the 2bn cups of coffee consumed each day worldwide, you may have seen headlines last month celebrating the coffee pod, a single-serving container – typically made of plastic or aluminum – that can be inserted into a machine to brew a cup of coffee. Continue reading →
Hundreds of dairy farms across California have sold the rights to their manure to energy producers. Illustration: Ricardo Cavolo/The Guardian
We are always on the lookout for more reasons why reducing beef and dairy consumption makes sense:
Brown gold: the great American manure rush begins
The energy industry is turning waste from dairy farms into renewable natural gas – but will it actually reduce emissions?
Have we reached ‘peak meat’? Why one country is trying to limit its number of livestock
On an early August afternoon at Pinnacle Dairy, a farm located near the middle of California’s long Central Valley, 1,300 Jersey cows idle in the shade of open-air barns. Above them whir fans the size of satellites, circulating a breeze as the temperature pushes 100F (38C). Underfoot, a wet layer of feces emits a thick stench that hangs in the air. Just a tad unpleasant, the smell represents a potential goldmine. Continue reading →
Hassan Machlab, a country manager with ICARDA in Lebanon, stands in the middle of a field with newly planted grains at the ICARDA research station, Dec. 21, 2022. Dalia Khamissy for NPR
Protecting plant species’ futures with seed banks grows greater in importance as time passes, because challenges to the planet multiply. We appreciate updates like this one by Ruth Sherlock and colleagues at National Public Radio (USA):
How ancient seeds from the Fertile Crescent could help save us from climate change
Chickpea grains are tested for various diseases at the ICARDA research station, Dec. 21, 2022. Dalia Khamissy for NPR
TERBOL, Lebanon — Inside a large freezer room at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, tens of thousands of seeds are stored at a constant temperature of minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit. After being threshed and cleaned, the seeds are placed inside small, sealed foil packets and stored on rows of heavy, sliding metal shelves.
Barley grains stored at the ICARDA research station. Dalia Khamissy for NPR
Some of them may hold keys to helping the planet’s food supply adapt to climate change.
The gene bank can hold as many as 120,000 varieties of plants. Many of the seeds come from crops as old as agriculture itself. They’re sown by farmers in the Fertile Crescent region, where cultivation began some 11,000 years ago. Other seeds were deposited by researchers who’ve hiked in the past four decades through forests and mountains in the Middle East, Asia and North Africa, searching for wild relatives of wheat, legumes and other crops that are important to the human diet. Continue reading →
On the outskirts of Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province in southwestern China, 6 November 2006. Photo by stringer/Reuters
Aeon was a regular source of excellent ideas and information during our first few years, and we are happy to see it again:
Maize is arguably the single most important crop in the world and is rivalled only by soybeans in terms of versatility. That said, it is, along with sugar cane and palm oil, among the most controversial crops, proving particularly so to critics of industrial agriculture. Although maize is usually associated with the Western world, it has played a prominent role in Asia for a long time, and, in recent decades, its importance in Asia has soared. For better or worse, or more likely for better and worse, its role in Asia seems to be following the Western script. Continue reading →
The Conversation is “a news organization dedicated to facts and evidence” and with the tag line “Academic rigor, journalistic flair”. Our kind of reading. The graph to the left illustrates this article’s point; the photo below to the right is too composed for rigor:
Brazil’s enormous soy farms mostly produce food for animals, not humans. lourencolf / shutterstock
New food technologies could release 80% of the world’s farmland back to nature
Here’s the basic problem for conservation at a global level: food production, biodiversity and carbon storage in ecosystems are competing for the same land. Continue reading →
Illustration: Eleanor Shakespeare/The Guardian
It is the first time we are seeing these two words together, and George Monbiot has this to say about the potential implied:
Embrace what may be the most important green technology ever. It could save us all
Never mind the yuck factor: precision fermentation could produce new staple foods, and end our reliance on farming
So what do we do now? After 27 summits and no effective action, it seems that the real purpose was to keep us talking. If governments were serious about preventing climate breakdown, there would have been no Cops 2-27. The major issues would have been resolved at Cop1, as the ozone depletion crisis was at a single summit in Montreal. Continue reading →
I will not blame Ruby Tandoh for the link to the predatory bookseller in her essay; the magazine she writes for is responsible. Instead, I will just put a better link from the book image on the left to where you might purchase it. Bringing our attention to the book is enough of a good deed to overlook that link. Especially as I work on finding new ways to fix nitrogen in the soil we are prepping for coffee planting:
Illustration by Sophia Pappas
It would be hard to find a more devoted champion of the peanut than the agricultural scientist George Washington Carver. Born into slavery in Missouri around 1864, Carver studied at Iowa State University and then taught at the Tuskegee Institute, where he would spend much of the rest of his life learning to repair the environmental damage wrought by intensive cotton farming. Continue reading →
Imagine if you had all of these bananas to pick from every day. Beatrice Sirinuntananon/Shutterstock
We did not search for banana ancestors while living in India. We just found as many varietals as we could to support the genetic stock. I have remained interested in doing the same ever since. They are more versatile than most people are aware, so the outcome of this scientific search matters:
Red or blue, squat or bulbous, seeded or seedless: Bananas have a lot of diversity and scientists have identified genetic signals of varieties that have not yet been found in the wild. guentermanaus/Shutterstock
The Search Is on for Mysterious Banana Ancestors
A new study shows that domesticated bananas have genetic markers tying them to three types of wild bananas that have not yet been found.
Bananas, it turns out, are not what we thought they were.
Sure, most, when ripe, are yellow and sweet and delicious slathered in peanut butter. Continue reading →
Emilio Parra Doiztua for The New York Times
My thoughts today start with the people who farm olives in this location deprived of the water needed to sustain their livelihoods. Because my mother was born on an olive-producing farm in an olive-privileged region of Greece, my eye is always drawn to stories about olive farmers.
Jaén, a province of Andalusia, has over 67 million olive trees. Emilio Parra Doiztua for The New York Times
When there are photos of olive trees, I am in for the whole story. My strongest, earliest memories are of the olive trees surrounding the terrace of the farmhouse my mother grew up in. Stories about olive farmers challenged by climate change are more difficult to read without sympathy pain, but I do so knowing that olive trees are survivors.
Panacite, a store in Ubeda, sells a range of variants of oil production from the region. Emilio Parra Doiztua for The New York Times
David Segal and José Bautista have reported this story with compassion and clarity:
The Olive Oil Capital of the World, Parched
Spain’s Jaén Province, home to one fifth of the world’s supply of “green gold,” copes with climate change and threats to its way of life.
The branch, plucked from one of thousands of trees in this densely packed olive grove, has browning leaves and a few tiny, desiccated buds that are bunched near the end. To Agustín Bautista, the branch tells a story and the story is about a harvest that is doomed. Continue reading →
Either before or after reading the article below, please click on the image to the right. If it is early morning where you are, it will get you started on the right foot. If it is the middle of the day, the website will refresh you. And if it is night time, sweet dreams will almost certainly follow.
Our coffee CSA, combined with our regenerative activities, are only a couple of reasons why this article is of personal interest to me. Work in Yakutia increased my wanting to visit Alaska, which started with the fact that my wife Amie was born there. Most of all, it is Alaska! The reasons are compounding, but time is not. Many thanks to Yasmin Tayag for this article in the New Yorker:
Illustration by Nicholas Konrad / The New Yorker
In 2010, Brad St. Pierre and his wife, Christine, moved from California to Fairbanks, Alaska, to work as farmers. “People thought we were crazy,” Brad said. “They were, like, ‘You can grow things in Alaska?’ ” Their new home, not far from where Christine grew up, was as far north as Reykjavík, Iceland, and receives about sixty inches of snow each year. Continue reading →
Some 28% of the world’s land is used for grazing. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
We favor organic, for our coffee, for just about everything, almost always. And yet George Monbiot offers a fully obvious answer to the counterintuitive question in the title:
A sheep rests under a tree in Oxfordshire. Trees planted for biodiversity also supply shade for livestock. Photograph: Geoffrey Swaine/Rex/Shutterstock
There is no photo of the olive trees mentioned in this article, but we will take the Helena Horton’s word for it, preposterous as it sounds:
Some farmers are attempting to mitigate worst effects of dry weather by adopting nature-friendly methods
Across the UK, farmers are looking at the sky and begging for rain. Continue reading →
Solar panels on Paul Knowlton’s farm in Grafton, Mass. Cattle will graze below the panels, which rise to 14 feet above the ground. Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
The concept of agrivoltaics has been an occasional topic in our pages over the years, most recently as we have prepared to plant thousands of coffee saplings. Ellen Rosen focuses our attention on how the advances in technology, and entrepreneurship in this space, are addressing the challenges:
Companies like BlueWave are betting on it. But the technology has its critics.
Mr. Knowlton preparing the soil between the panels before he plants butternut squash and lettuce. Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
In its 150-year history, Paul Knowlton’s farm in Grafton, Mass., has produced vegetables, dairy products and, most recently, hay. The evolution of the farm’s use turned on changing markets and a variable climate. Recently, however, Mr. Knowlton added a new type of cash crop: solar power. Continue reading →
I came across this graph posted on LinkedIn. More interesting than the graph is the commentary it provoked.
Looking at the affiliations of the commenters it is clear in some cases why, for example dairy farmers, they would have claims contrary to those in the graph.
But read all the comments.
Who are all these people?
Shaji has a prized collection of more than 200 varieties of tubers. Photograph: Shaji NM
In our Kerala days we visited Wayanad many times, but I would remember if I had met Shaji. We would have sought his advice to expand on the agricultural initiatives at the properties we developed and managed. Monika Mondal’s story ‘The tuber man of Kerala’ on a quest to champion India’s rare and indigenous crops brings back memories of unassuming neighbors doing unexpectedly amazing things:
Shaji NM has devoted his life to collecting and farming tubers such as yam, cassava and taro, and promoting them across the country
Shaji NM has spent the past two decades travelling across India to collect rare indigenous tubers. Photograph: Shaji NM
Known as “the tuber man of Kerala”, Shaji NM has travelled throughout India over the past two decades, sometimes inspecting bushes in tribal villages, at other times studying the ground of forests closer to home among the green hills of Wayanad in Kerala. His one purpose, and what earned him his title, is to collect rare indigenous varieties of tuber crops.
“People call me crazy, but it’s for the love of tubers that I do what I do,” says Shaji. “I have developed an emotional relationship with the tuber. When we did not have anything to eat, we had tubers.” Continue reading →